/ Technology

What are your top tech tips for choosing and using gadgets?

Tech tricks and tips

When I was asked to write an article rounding up our very best technology tips and advice across computing, TV and audio for the February issue of Which?, I thought it would be a piece of cake.

There’s a wealth of handy hints and tips across the various Which? sites, as well as in the heads of our Technology and Computing Helpdesk teams.

But then I started thinking about what makes a good tip – it needs to be something that will make your life simpler, solve a problem, or save you money or time.

The best technology tips are brilliantly shareable and have a real-world application.

And that’s where you come in.

My favourite tech tip

My favourite tech tip is simple, but has saved me countless frustrations and made my life easier.

Working with two screens means that the screenshot function doesn’t work on my PC, and after years of working this way, I’d given up being able to screenshot particular websites, funny pictures or exchanges, or even IT error messages.

That was until I read a Tech Daily blog post on how to take screenshots on any device, and discovered the snipping tool.

Now I can select and snip any part of a screen. And it’s stuck with me – the original blog post was written in 2014, and two-and-a-half years later, I still share it far and wide.

Using advice on the Which? website and Tech Daily blog, I’ve also discovered how to rid myself of browser hijackers and how to choose the best printer paper.

Your tips

There’s a raft of advice across Which?, but I’m looking for real-world tips from the Which? Convo community to feature in the article – so, do you have a favourite tip when choosing or using your technology devices? Have you saved money when buying a gadget or service, for example, clubbing together with family members for a subscription to a streaming service? Do you have a handy hint for the best way to get the most out of your smart TV, or maybe a useful keyboard shortcut that saves you time?


Rule 1: Decide what you want to do with the gadget(s) BEFORE you start looking at prices, suppliers, etc. If you don’t have a clear idea of potential usage you cannot have a clear idea of what is needed.

New Tech comes in two forms: the type that neatly fits the holes in the problem you’re trying to solve (“Now, if only I could do that…”) and the type that fulfils a need you weren’t even aware you had (“Wow! So it does what, then…?”). It’s absolutely astonishing what fits into the latter category.

Who’d have dreamt a sensor-triggered, motor driven kitchen waste bin array would have made the kitchen complete? I didn’t even know such a thing existed before we had our new kitchen installed, and now it’s a great way to pass the time (kick it and see how long it takes to open ). Every drawer has its own lighting, now, and I’m working on ways to illuminate the few cupboards we have. And don’t get me started on the electric wine bottle rack…

But so much really invaluable tech starts out life as toys. I suspect VR headsets will do that, and the video games industry, reaching its home-grown heights in the early to mid-’80s, has been responsible for a complete revolution in the way pilots are trained and military drones are piloted.

I use five 4K screens on a Mac Pro (and, incidentally, Macs ship with Preview as standard, which allows for snapshots of any part of the screen, all of it, selected windows and PDF annotations a good enough reason to swap to Apple by itself) but the range, size and quality of LED screens owes a lot to the need to provide a clearer way to see which channel had been chosen on the TV.

I admit to being a technophile (it’s not a crime; well, not unless you’re my wife, that is) so the house is replete with technology (although the time I spent getting the Labelwriter to print the Xmas card labels the other day could have been used to write the things…) but tech does genuinely often fill gaps and make life easier. And I love being able to turn off the garage lights and lock the door from the lounge through the iPad. Maybe I need a more productive job…

On 29/11/16 Ian said:

“I suspect VR headsets will do that, and the video games industry, reaching its home-grown heights in the early to mid-’80s, has been responsible for a complete revolution in the way pilots are trained and military drones are piloted.”

Actually I suspect there have been some long term synergies between the world of PC games and military simulators. Military “computer games” probably predate the era of low cost micros and PCs. When I was working at Harwell in the mid-1990s, some of my colleagues were working on 3D-TV systems for nuclear remote handling applications. At the time, they expected that commercial domestic 3D-TV sets would only be few years away. In fact it took more like a decade or two for that fad to appear and then wane.

My tip is to try out products before buying them. Many adults are just like grown-up kids and will be happy to demonstrate their latest gadget or other purchase, and to let you play with them. Their teenage kids may well be better informed. Visiting friends and family provides plenty of opportunities to test unfamiliar products and learn about any significant weaknesses as well as the advantages.

Hannah comments on doing screen captures remind me that I used Snagit to do screen captures when I had to use a PC. It was recommended to me by someone who produced instruction manuals containing a lot of screen captures and it was well worth the money. Thankfully Windows does now offer a way of doing selective screen capture but I reckon Snagit is much more versatile.

Which? Tech Daily mentions one way of doing screen captures on a Mac, but I prefer using Grab, which is a utility provided with every Mac. Someone has mentioned Grab in the comments on the Tech Daily article.

I often download the user guides for products I’m thinking about buying from the manufacturer’s support pages. They will usually confirm the product will do what I want, have the right connections, sockets etc. before actually buying it.

Agreed Colin – I usually refer our members to online videos which explain how to follow specific tasks, or getting to grips with certain gadgets/tech.

YouTube is a great source for this, especially as it hosts thousands of thorough video tutorials. 🙂

On a recent trip to Paris to give some recitals I was able to store all the manuals I needed for cameras, etc., more than 200 pages of sheet music, all the details of our travel insurance, tickets, passport copies and emergency contact details and all I had to do was remember the charger.

I met up with a harpist from the RCM and she was using her iPad to store all her manuscript on. Life is becoming a lot easier – in some ways.

That sounds like a lot of eggs in one basket, Ian. 🙂

Yes – you’re right about that, which is why we have two iPads, and back up to iCloud. I’m mildly obsessional about that sort of thing .

Excellent. That takes us nicely into the importance of backups when using computer-based technology. Hardly a top tech tip but it could save a lot of grief.

I know little about computers, but would be reluctant to back up my data onto someone elses’ equipment, like iCloud or Bullguard. I have a separate hard drive that my kids bought me years ago and this reminds me I ought to make the effort to use it again. No chance of hacking into that, is there?

Backups are essential – probably the most essential aspect of any computing activity. In my case we have three discrete back up systems: iCloud for photos and some documents, the Mac’s own backup system Time Machine, and air-gapped HDs to which I backup when needed or to a timetable.

We have a lot of family photos and a great deal of video, so our main system has 4 x 4TB drives, 1 x 3TB drive and a 1GB SSD for start up. The secondary system only has 4 x 2TB drives, but daisy chained externally are 4 x 6TB drives for the media server, accessed through the Apple TV elsewhere in the house. Having returned from Paris to a failed HD on the secondary system, having the data backed up as it is proved very valuable.

I agree. It’s always worth doing so that you can be sure that the kit will do the thing you particularly want it to do.

There are two sorts of people: those that back up, and those who will! Better to be in the first group rather than the remorseful second. On macs, using timemachine onto an external drive works really well for most people, either to a directly attached external drive or over your home wifi. The backups can be encrypted to keep the contents safe.

The obvious problem with gadgets that purport to help our daily lives is when they stop working. So the electric boot on your car fails to open, your electric rotary wastebins no longer rotate nor open, the power assisted drawers in the kitchen quit…… For gadgets that don’t matter a lot (I used to have an electric paper stapler that was fun to watch but it eventually gave up) then you can write them off. But when you have to rely upon a gadget or an assisted device it becomes a pain. When I was working in design I always had in mind a back-up so that if a clever feature stopped working properly, there was an alternative simpler way of keeping the device operating, at least until it could be repaired – an insurance. A question to ask is – do we really need many of the latest gadgets? What many of us really need is novelties and toys, and this is what they satisfy.

Peter Brown says:
3 December 2016

When a gadget solves a problem with another gadget. The BBC decided to ignore my smart TV and so the BBC Iplayer just disappeared one day. Seems they cannot be bothered to re-write the software. However when I bought the Amazon Firestick because it was discounted I found that it would provide Iplayer without any problem; and a good deal else beside. This is not a sponsored advert!

If you live in an area where there is poor cellular ‘phone coverage or you travel overseas and use your ‘phone, it’s worth considering switching to O2. They have an app called TuGo that connects your smartphone to their UK network from any wifi internet connection anywhere in the world. So, if you live in a village like ours, you can still make and receive calls on your cellphone through your home wifi connection. Equally, if you are overseas and you have a wifi connection to the internet, you can make and receive calls as if you were in UK – your calls will come out of your bundled minutes and incoming calls are free. There are other similar systems from EE and Vodafone but, as far as I understand, only TuGo works from any wifi internet connection worldwide.

All Apple ‘phones can do that and always have done.

It seems to me to be network-specific rather than OS specific. When I had an iPhone, I used SureSignal with Vodafone but it was a 3G picocell and only worked in my house and not very reliably. The O2 TuGo service works on any WiFi internet connection to provide direct access to the O2 backhaul in UK, perhaps by VOIP, I don’t know.

In this instance it may be for the good in proving a murder but the idea that Amazon records all is rather concerning if you have a Government being repressive. Or perhaps more likely a profiling application to market to you directly.

People who install these devices are signing up to monitoring and surveillance. I was more concerned about the use of compulsory smart meters to check energy [and in the case reported, water] consumption for a specific period. As you say, Patrick, good for the investigation of crimes, but does all this data have to be retained?

I have never liked smart meter’s, if you’ve ever tried to trace though your bill withe the present tariff. Think well upon being converted to a more business like tariff system, flick a switch, a completely different tariff every 1/2 hour/24hr ((Not your present Local Shop consumer) adjustment based upon the previous years ‘Load Factors’)

IanD says:
23 January 2017

If you want to take a screen shot of just one window, press Alt-PrtScn (Hold down the Alt Key and press PrtScn). It captures the current window (but won’t include the cursor or drop-down boxes)

I’ve just read your article ‘Get the most from your tech’ in the February issue of ‘Which’ and I was particularly interested in the section ‘Do you really need wireless?’. I have some decent Sennheiser wired headphones but was getting frustrated at having to run a lead across my lounge from my hi-fi. I’d investigated buying Bluetooth headphones, but found they were expensive – to get similar quality to my existing headphones would have cost about £300. So, I chose a different approach, investing in a Bluetooth transmitter to connect to my hi-fi, and a Bluetooth receiver to connect to my wired headphones. The outlay for both was about £30. The devices are very small and use batteries which are rechargeable from a USB socket. Batteries last well over two hours and the range is at least seven metres. I now have a wireless connection, and I can still use my Sennheiser headphones.

I did not think that Bluetooth connections were much good for decent sound quality but maybe I’m out of date.

I agree it’s not as good as a wired connection, but it’s still pretty decent quality. I was advised to get devices with the latest Bluetooth version (4.1) and I was quite impressed with the frequency range, but not so impressed with the extremely quiet music passages where one or both channels sometimes dropped out. I’m still experimenting with audio levels so I may yet resolve. In my case the small disadvantages on audio are more than outweighed by the convenience or a wireless connection.

Thanks Evan. I had no idea that Bluetooth offered that sort of range. Years ago, I bought wireless headphones for my mum because she struggled to hear the TV but they were not Bluetooth.

I live alone so there’s no-one to annoy by listening on speakers

Chris says:
5 February 2017

CTRL + ALT + PRINT SCREEN takes screen shot of the monitor your on in a dual screen set-up, no need to use snipping tool.